Who knew that Caroline Quentin could achieve (almost) the splits, while strumming a ukulele? Or that that Richard Bean and Chris Oliver – who a decade ago created the National Theatre’s world-conquering One Man, Two Guvnors – would for their next 18c update, Jack Absolute Flies Again, attempt a mashup of Sheridan’s classic frothy Restoration romcom The Rivals, and set it in a WW2 RAF base?
Do we still love Rooster? Reflections on the return of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem
Twelve years on from Jez Butterworth’s glorious shock-troop assault on metropolitan sensibilities, we welcome back Ultz’s woodland glade and knackered caravan, and surf along with Ian Rickson’s bravura direction.
‘This is Bertie Carvel’s show, his Donald Trump is magnificent’: THE 47th – Old Vic Theatre ★★★★
Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump is magnificent. Eerily so, capturing not only the ex-President’s showmanship, the gestures and unwholesomely needy yet threatening charm, but moving beyond caricature.
‘The vigour of the staging, & fine performances, leave you exhilarated as well as sad’: DIARY OF A SOMEBODY – Seven Dials Playhouse ★★★
The tiny Actors’ Centre is reborn under its new name, and since this play is set in what was a traditionally febrile, theatrical, subversively arty quarter in the 50s and 60s before it got chichi, it’s a good place to remember Joe Orton and his killing.
‘An overlong, ill-conceived & pretentious evening’: DADDY – Almeida Theatre ★★
Jeremy O’Taylor is a much-feted American playwright (a Tony for Slave Play) adept at drilling in to the moment: BLM, fashionable white guilt, showy theatricality and retro-intellectual themes.
‘Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation is a freestanding triumph’: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD – West End ★★★★★
Aaron Sorkin worked on this play in the age of Trump and of Black Lives Matter, and it shows. A fusillade of trigger warnings reminds us that it cannot be handled without numerous racial slurs and acknowledgment of violence, sexual and otherwise.
‘You either leave this show vowing to devote your life to musical theatre or to never go near one again’: MARIA FRIEDMAN & FRIENDS – Menier Chocolate Factory
At the end of the evening the great diva, director and muse informs us that we too must sing. In a packed house, on the far side of a pandemic, which made us fear one another’s very breath, we join the posse of old-timers and ingenu(e)s.
‘This play just gets more & more topical, with its cathartic storm of mutual offence’: CLYBOURNE PARK – Park Theatre ★★★★
In 2010, Bruce Norris’ play wowed the Royal Court: this is a ten-year anniversary (well, plus two years lost to Covid) so forgive me for quoting what I wrote then.
‘Ralph Fiennes gives it everything… He is irresistible’: STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY – Bridge Theatre ★★★★
It is not often I resort to drawing in the notebook, but there it is: half an hour into the first part of David Hare’s play about the city planner Robert Moses, whose demonic energy built modern New York between the 1920s and the ’60s.
‘A quirky, comic four-hander celebrating a 40-year partnership’: THE MARRIAGE OF ALICE B TOKLAS BY GERTRUDE STEIN – Jermyn Street Theatre ★★★★
With typical wit, the doughty little Jermyn has captured an intellectual-farcical oddity from New York, complete with author-director and star. Tom Littler signed them up for 2020, with obvious results, but lured them back.
‘Taron Egerton is utterly at home in the theatre’: COCK – West End ★★★★
Mike Bartlett’s mischievous, half-earnest play is about a gay man wrestling with his identity (and his furious partner) after falling for a woman. Who he loves both as a person and – to his confusion – as an anatomy. It’s clever to revive it in this even more gender-anxious time.
‘Art is about hearts not dollars, a sacred human magic’: THE COLLABORATION – Young Vic Theatre ★★★★
Two artists in a studio: Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. They have been put there to collaborate in 1980s New York.
‘Zeller is like a more humane early Stoppard’: THE FOREST – Hampstead Theatre ★★★★
The French novelist-turned-playwright Florian Zeller hit the British theatre scene a few years ago with two comedies: The Lie and The Truth, which at the time I described as “a punch-in-the-guts, cruelly affectionate, whip-smart ninety-minute treat”.
‘Even great clowns & great stars need a bit of loving friendship’: SPIKE – Watermill Theatre, Newbury ★★★★
Spike Milligan, our hero, was a force of disruptive fun, joy and disrespect compared to whom our calculatedly Insta-friendly “edgy” moderns are toddlers.
‘Spectacular in staging, fast-moving & engrossing’: LIFE OF PI – West End ★★★★
The famous oversized Bengal tiger snarled personally in my face. I had wanted to see the puppetry, of course.
‘Genius programming for winter 2022’: FORCE MAJEURE – Donmar Warehouse ★★★
Inspired programming here. You’d find a decent overlap in any January Venn diagram of regular Donmar audiences and people who wish they were skiing.
‘There’s a truthful dramatic core to the whole venture’: FOLK – Hampstead Theatre ★★★★
There’s a lovely serendipity. The main theatre is running Peggy for You while the little downstairs space has Nell Leyshon’s rather lovely new play imagining Cecil Sharp collecting folk-songs in Somerset.
‘Coward’s classic fits the quarrelsome exasperated affections of middle age perfectly’: PRIVATE LIVES – Touring ★★★★
May as well tell you, I had the ultimate pensioner experience, and it was a blast. A midweek, senior-price matinee for the new touring production of Private Lives.
Looking back on the last two plague years: Part 2, The Repeat
In the months from May to December 2021, it was, once again, possible to see live shows and review them in London and across the country: for me Birmingham, Sonning, Lowestoft, Ipswich, Norwich, Colchester, Northampton and elsewhere.
Looking back on the last two plague years: Part 1, The Onset
I set out to chronicle and celebrate the return of live theatre since May 2021. And this will follow. But when I totted up the 2021 score – 60 theatre nights, 30 being completely new plays and 19 brand-new productions – it seemed to me only decent to pause, look back at the year before.